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What Can Advertisers Learn From A Holiday Season Like No Other?



As adland prepares for a unique festive period, LBB speaks to three industry experts to find out why social media could be Santa’s little helper in 2020

What Can Advertisers Learn From A Holiday Season Like No Other?

To top off this most unique of years, it’s perhaps fitting that the marketing industry is preparing for a holiday season like no other before it. With the traditional high-street shopping experience impossible (or at least heavily discouraged) for millions across the world, we’re seeing a significant shift to online retail. 

However, despite the unprecedented circumstances, it may well be that the trends which define 2020’s holiday period stand the test of time and remain into the future. Marketers treating this year as a one-off, therefore, could be caught cold in 2021.

To discuss how marketers will be approaching this year’s festive period, we spoke to Adstream’s global head of marketing Trevor Williams, Tug Agency’s head of social & content, Emily Knox, and Leo Burnett’s strategy director Joe Beveridge. 

Adapting To Thrive

For those well-prepared brands and marketers there are opportunities to be taken. “The most optimistic marketers will be those who have a strong online presence, a great web and mobile shopping experience, excellent customer reviews, and online word of mouth for their product”, says Emily Knox. “But equally, this is going to be a good year for those brands who have strong, tangible values. Those who worked to help out during lockdown will see an uptick from customers who appreciated what they did”. 

Striking a similar note, Trevor Williams predicts a prosperous festive period for certain brands. “I’m optimistic this holiday season solely for the brands that are open-minded, willing to change and take creative risks”, he argues. “Brands need to take a step back, look at the holiday season and say “okay where are my gaps, how can I fill them, and what online channels offer the best way to do that?” 

Additionally, it may be that a tumultuous year will have a positive effect on people’s desire for a big celebration. “After a brutal year, the nation will be craving the magic and escapism of Christmas more than ever”, says Joe Beveridge. “People will be spending; they’ll just be spending differently. Filling their baskets online rather than in store; ticking off their lists early to avoid any delivery hiccups; choosing fewer, but more thoughtful, presents; buying now and paying later on credit. For those marketers able to adapt, there’s still plenty to be optimistic about”.

The distinctive nature of this year’s festive period appears to demand distinctive solutions. However, could the decisions marketers make this year have a fundamental and lasting impact on brand communications in the long-term? 

Reinvention And Renewal?

In order to be best prepared for the future then, perhaps now is the time for brands to experiment with new ideas. “As shoppers choose the laptop over the high street, the experience risks becoming uncharacteristically cold and transactional”, suggests Joe. “It’s up to marketers, then, to help keep the magic alive - recreating equal amounts of excitement and serendipity in the virtual world”.

To get that spark of creativity, Trevor is looking towards new technologies. “This year does present a rare opportunity to test and learn new channels and ideas that we normally might not have the time or confidence to try during this hectic period”, he explains. “Of course, we’re all just as busy - if not more so - this year than previous. But, without having the traditional retail experience, marketers need to establish brand dominance and exciting online experiences to drive sales. Think big - can AR or VR activations replace the holiday ‘window shopping’ experience? Does social media become your primary selling strategy and if so how will you drive engagement with the brand? These are questions marketers need to ask themselves as we enter the holidays”.

As brands experiment with taking on new ideas, however, perhaps there are other holiday traditions that can be safely left behind. “In a lot of ways, the ‘traditional’ retail experience is actually not that great. Tearing about Westfield on December 23rd trying to find something for a cousin you last saw in July is not an experience we need to recreate digitally”, suggests Emily. “What we should be recreating, however, is the priceless opportunity to put new and innovative products in front of interested people. And this is best done with well-targeted advertising and reinforced with user-generated content and influencer content”.

Social Media: Santa’s Little Helper?

With a renewed focus on digital channels and content, it appears that social media platforms are ideally placed to become a marketer’s favourite tool this holiday season. 

“What’s exciting about social media”, explains Trevor, “is that we’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of its potential. Now, however, is the perfect time for marketers to button down and master the transition from online engagement to online sales. If you can crack that, you’re set for a fantastic festive period”.

The key to success for brands, therefore, lies in getting the best out of their social media strategies. “The whole point of social media is online collaboration and engagement, whether that be with friends, family, or just random people. But the keyword there is engagement”, argues Trevor. “We engage with brands that are fun, exciting and enticing. This comes from a plethora of avenues from interactive blog posts, self quizzes, AR activations, and of course the occasional ‘Throwback Thursday’. Once you entice a consumer to engage with your brand, it’s much easier to convince them they can’t live without your products or solutions. In order to do that across the multitude of social channels required, you’re going to need a tech solution which allows for instant responses based on reliable data across different social platforms. In the last few months, we have noticed that our clients who integrated Adstream’s One Social in their tech stack were ready to get control over their social content and channels in real-time when the pandemic hit the market. But ultimately, if you don’t take that first step to entice and drive engagement, you’ll find yourself high and dry come December 31”.

Brands looking for a successful end of year push must apply the time and resources their social channels need. “Don’t leave your social media ads unmonitored and unhappy customers left un-replied-to. Not least because others will see this and use it as a basis on whether to purchase from you or not”, notes Emily. “If I have a problem but it’s dealt with swiftly and politely, I can come away from that experience liking the brand more than if I never had an issue in the first place’.

Here To Stay?

This festive season may be an outlier compared to those before it, but what about setting the tone for upcoming years? “I don’t know when we’ll be able to say that this pandemic is ‘over’”, says Emily, “but regardless of that I think some aspects of our industry will have changed for good. Certainly, the accelerated shift to online shopping will likely continue, as perhaps will the renewed focus on shopping locally (be it from online merchants or re-opened high street stores), as well as supporting brands who are doing good for society or nature”.

Similarly, Joe sees a long-term future for brand strategies which have come to the fore in 2020. “This Christmas we’ve seen a new, collective spirit of generosity emerge. Brands have set out not just to entertain the nation, but to support it”, he says. “From tackling food poverty, to hygiene poverty, to supporting parents in need – many have put important social causes and initiatives at the heart of their marketing. While this was once an optional extra for brands at Christmas, this year it’s become a mandatory. Long may it continue!”.

To illustrate his vision for a successful brand in 2021, Trevor provides an example. “Let’s say you’re a fashion brand with a stunning window display on Fifth Avenue in New York. Unfortunately, 2020 won’t drive exposure for your display and thus your top items”, he says. “But you’re smart. You’ve created an AR overlay through Snapchat that enables potential consumers to see the window display in their own homes, 360 view each article of clothing and - crucially - link to your store in order to drive sales. You combine this with a brand awareness campaign driven across linear TV, social media and VOD channels. Finally, your last tie-in is your loyalty program – driving up-sell opportunities, credibility for net new shoppers and of course increased revenue during your top season. 

“Now it’s 2021 – can you tell me what you’d change in terms of top-level strategy? Odds are no, because you won’t need to. Instead, you’ll find the perfect balance between traditional and new-media channels, develop a strategy to drive engagement and conversion that ultimately supports both online and retail revenue drivers”.

Whilst 2020’s holiday season may not provide us with a cast-iron template for the future, then, it does seem set to provide lessons marketers would be foolish to ignore. 

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Adstream London, Thu, 17 Dec 2020 15:07:36 GMT